Again: If you are here for the giveaway, scroll on down!
If you are here because you're interested in the $2.99 e-book of StarCrossed, yay you! Click here for details about where to buy it.
And if you are here for writing craft stuff, read on.
The blank above could be filled with “Plot,” “Character,” or ultimately “Book”—but here I’m going to talk about character, because really what I want to discuss is stakes, and the best stakes an author can create is the reader’s interest in the characters. If readers want to hang out with your protagonist, because he or she says or does interesting things, then they’ll just generally go along with stuff for a while, I think, even if they’re a little puzzled or nothing seems to be happening. More importantly long-term, readers will experience all the action that happens to your protagonist the same way the protagonist experiences it, as well as the joy, the fear, and the pain that goes along with it—and as the creation of emotion is the highest goal of an artist, having your reader be interested in your characters is a significant first step.
Liar’s Moon had an advantage here in that it was a (standalone) sequel to StarCrossed, so a fair amount of our readership would be coming to us from the previous book, and they’d already be interested in Digger, the sneak-thief who pretended to be an escaped nun, got caught up in a rebellion, and then fomented religious civil war.* But when you have an Act I like that in StarCrossed, you need a pretty spectacular Act II; and that means making readers care not just about Digger, but the people around her and the action she’s pursuing.
In this book, as established on Wednesday, that action is a mystery—a murder investigation. Readers get invested in mysteries because they care about (A) the abstract idea the mystery represents (in this case, justice), (B) the victim of the mystery, if there is one, (C) other people affected by the crime, or (D) what’s in it for the detective . . . though really I don’t think readers ever really care about (A) until it’s played out in (B) or (C). With (B), the murder victim here is Talth Ceid, Durrel’s much older wife, who wed him in what was acknowledged by everyone involved to be a marriage of convenience, uniting her wealth with his noble name. Digger never met her personally, so everything we know about her we get from the people Digger talks to -- and Talth’s pretty quickly established as a woman whom no one liked, including Durrel.
That leads us on to (C). In Liar’s Moon’s case, the primary “other person affected by the crime” was Durrel, who was being framed for Talth’s murder. So we had to make readers care about Durrel -- a guy whom Digger had met briefly, and liked, at the beginning of StarCrossed, but who was then absent for four-fifths of the book.** Since the mystery of Talth's murder structures all of this book, and the mystery is driven by Digger’s connection to and interest in Durrel, we had to get Digger to like him again and feel pretty invested in him tout suite once the story started. Fortunately, they're very quickly thrown into contact (literally), as Digger gets picked up on the street (also literally) and tossed into Durrel's jail cell for unknown reasons.
I have a list on my bulletin board at work of fourteen qualities that make characters attractive to readers (or at least to me, I suppose). As I reread Digger’s first encounter with him now, Durrel quickly fulfills #9, Kindness, in the way that he immediately is concerned about Digger when she appears in his cell:
“What’s going on? What are you doing here?”#11, Humor/Wit, in that he has a sense of (black) humor about his situation:
“I don’t know,” Durrel said. “This is very odd. You’re injured.” I touched my face, which was streaked with blood from the cut under my eye. “Let’s get you cleaned up, at least.”
“They think I murdered my wife.” . . . Durrel saw the expression on my face and gave an attempt at a wan smile. “It surprised me too.”And most especially #8, Jeopardy, because all the circumstantial evidence points to him:
“Isn’t it always the husband?” A twisted smile tried to form itself on his lips, but died prematurely. “They found vials of the Tincture in my rooms. But it wasn’t mine—” He turned back into the shadows. “They’re going to execute me, Celyn.”As their conversation goes along, it warms up, as Digger rediscovers her appreciation of his company: “Something about Lord Durrel made him too easy to talk to.” He becomes more optimistic about his situation in talking to her as well (#10, Positivity):
“We’re left with a puzzle,” Durrel said, and there was a lively spark to his voice that seemed all out of place.And thus Digger discovers her own (D) above, what’s in it for her to investigate this case—both a personal mystery, in finding out who would have arranged for her to be thrown in with Durrel, which is surely not a coincidence; and a personal desire, that she likes Durrel (and maybe even starts to "like-like" him), and doesn’t want to see him executed. Thus, by the end of Chapter 2, the plot is set; Digger and we readers care, so the stakes are set too; and the book is well on its way.
“Pox,” I said. “I hate puzzles.”
Lesson for Writers: Cheryl’s Fourteen Qualities of Attractive Characters***:
- Newness (someone I haven’t seen before)
- Viewpoint (the POV character)
- Desire (the character wants something)
- Friends (the character likes or is liked by people the reader likes))
- Enemies (the character is disliked by people the reader dislikes, so we like the character -- Harry Potter being hated by the Dursleys is the classic example)
- Action (the character does something)
- Jeopardy (being in it)
- Positivity (a good attitude in general)
- Enthusiasm (passion for one specific thing)
- Complication (meaning that while they have at least one likeable element, as per #9-12 generally, they do experience darker & deeper emotions)
- Mystery (the character is keeping secrets, even from the reader)
On Monday, Part III: Outlines, outlines, outlines!
* Yes, Digger is that awesome. And hey, don’t you want to read StarCrossed? It’s $2.99 on e-book right now…
** Since we knew Durrel would play a major role in this book, we were at pains to keep him present in the reader’s mind throughout StarCrossed, which Elizabeth accomplished by having him give Digger a present she used throughout that book.
*** I will be talking about these qualities in more depth at the Florida SCBWI conference over Martin Luther King Day weekend, if you’re looking for a January break.
The Giveaway Is Still Going On!
wrote earlier about the terrific deal we’re offering on the digital version of StarCrossed, which runs through the end of the month. But there is no time like the present to get the word out about it! To that end, I’m having a giveaway here, with the chance to win a signed hardcover set of BOTH StarCrossed and Liar’s Moon, OR a signed paperback copy of my Second Sight . . . and I’m offering five prizes in total, so your odds are very good! To enter:
If you’re on Twitter, retweet this message between now and 11:59 p.m. next Wednesday, December 14:
Elizabeth Bunce’s STARCROSSED is now $2.99 on e-book—RT for the chance to win a hardcover + LIAR'S MOON! http://bit.ly/uNZiKv @chavelaqueOr you can post about this on your blog or LJ (with a link back to this blog post) and leave the link to your post in the comments below, also by 11:59 p.m. EST on Wednesday the 14th. Or both! Each individual tweet or blog post counts as a new entry, so each one increases your chances. (They’re like tesserae in the Hunger Games!) (A link on Twitter to YOUR blog post does not count toward the giveaway, though.) Once all the comments and RTs are in, I’ll pick three names out of a hat and announce the winner on the 16th.
So to do this legal-style:
- How to Enter via Twitter: Using your Twitter account, follow @chavelaque and then re-tweet my original tweet of “Elizabeth Bunce’s STARCROSSED is now $2.99 on e-book—RT for the chance to win a hardcover + LIAR'S MOON! http://bit.ly/uNZiKv @chavelaque” Please note that the phrase “@chavelaque” MUST be in your message or your entry will not be counted. Tweets must be retweeted between 12/7/11, 9 am EST and 12/14/11, 11:59 pm EST (the “Entry Period”). You can tweet as many times as you like in the Entry Period.
- How to Enter via Blog/LJ: Post about the $2.99 sale or this giveaway on your blog or unlocked LJ, then leave a link to your post in the comments below. Your post MUST include a link to this post. Also, you MUST leave your own link in the comments on this post between 12/7/11, 9 am EST and 12/14/11, 11:59 pm EST or your entry will not be counted. Post as many times as you like during the Entry Period.
- The Prizes: Three (3) winners will each receive one (1) hardcover copy of both StarCrossed and Liar’s Moon (Approximate Retail Value $35.98). Two (2) winners will each receive (1) copy of Second Sight (Approximate Retail Value $16.99). Everyone will receive my undying gratitude.